WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After Texans coach Gary Kubiak spoke glowingly of DeMeco Ryans for several minutes, the question was asked: “Well, if he’s so great, why didn’t you keep him?”
It’s the question many in Philadelphia have been asking themselves after the Eagles apparently got the better of the Houston Texans in last week’s trade for the middle linebacker. The explanation then from Eagles coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman was that Ryans no longer fit the Texans’ scheme.
Houston had moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 after Wade Phillips became defensive coordinator, and Ryans was only on the field approximately 50 percent of the time. And because the Texans had salary cap issues they couldn’t justify paying a part-time linebacker nearly $6 million a year.
“You have to make decisions – cap decisions, going-forward decisions,” Kubiak said Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings. “There’s a lot of things that go into account of why you trade a player or have to release a player nowadays. Obviously in the NFL nowadays every year you’re putting together a team. Holding that same group of guys together for 10-15 years doesn’t exist anymore.”
Still, if Ryans could beat out Brian Cushing as the Texans’ three-down inside linebacker he would still be in Houston. Cushing is a talented player and he’s two years younger than the 27-year-old Ryans. But Ryans was once a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker and there are legitimate concerns about his return from a 2010 ruptured Achilles tendon.
Ryans admitted last week that he was slow at the start of last season. But the general consensus – one the Eagles share – was that he was close to his old self by the end of the year.
“No doubt, he played his best football for us at the end of the year, there’s no doubt about that,” Kubiak said. “Absolutely no doubt. He battled his elbow, he battled his Achilles, but at the end of the year he played his best football for us.”
When the trade was announced – Houston received a fourth round draft pick and a higher third round pick – several Texans decried the loss of their leader. Cushing tweeted that he wouldn’t be “half the player or person” without Ryans as his mentor.
“All you have to do is turn the film on and watch him,” Kubiak said. “He runs the show. Everybody goes to him, they trust him so much and what he’s doing. He really raised Cushing in a lot of ways. … He’s just a guy on the field that gave everybody some calm: ‘Hey, I got it under control. What are we doing? What’s our adjustment?’ DeMeco let us know we got it.”
Every Thursday night Ryans organized a team get-together, Kubiak said.
“He’s an old Southern boy. He’s as country as they come,” the coach said. “He’s tough as nail. He’s all man. He’s stands for all the right stuff.”
Kubiak said that Ryans could still be a three-down linebacker “in the right defense.” Last season, the Eagles kept middle linebacker Jamar Chaney on the field for all three downs for most of the season. But he struggled in pass coverage, as many linebackers do, and was on the sidelines on passing downs by the end of the season.
With more defenses switching to a 3-4 and with an already pass-happy league becoming even more obsessed with airing it out, the three-down middle linebacker is becoming a bit of a dinosaur. New Raiders coach Dennis Allen hasn’t yet decided if Oakland will stay with the 4-3 or switch to a 3-4.
“When you look at the traditional MIKE linebacker, the big, tough, physical run-stopping type of guy – I think the way that the league is going with the passing game now I think it’s going to a little bit more of a speed and athleticism type of position,” Allen said. “I think that’s where you’ll see the evolution of the MIKE linebacker.”